In order to create, it is necessary to be liberated by voluntary death, the death of the ego.
Creative vision only belongs to one who dares to look into the depths of himself as far as the
—Jeanne De Salzmann, The Reality of Being
She never stumbles, she’s got no place to fall
She’s nobody’s child, the Law can’t touch her at all
—Bob Dylan, “She Belongs To Me”
When my two boys were small we had the garden variety battles of will. Something needed to
happen—going to school or to a gathering, helping rake leaves, practice an instrument, or sign
up for a class or activity. Every so often, as we struggled about whether this or that thing would
happen, they would ask the key question.
“Do I have a choice?”
My answer was always the same.
“Of course you have a choice. It is one choice—the thing that must be done.”
This was not the answer they expected or wanted. As they did the math, they found that it didn’t
add up. How could only one option represent a choice?
“That’s not fair, dad! It makes no sense” they argued.
“It makes perfect sense,” I countered. “You can choose the inevitable. Instead of the task being
foisted and your participation coerced, you can bring your will to it and make it your own. Then it
is truly your choice.”
Though they denied that they understood my meaning, I know that they did, because I saw
them secretly struggling with themselves to first of all accept and then choose the inexorable
“Delivery from preferences, from your likes and dislikes,” I lectured as their eyes began to glaze,
“is real freedom of choice. Only when you are free from the desires for one or the other can you
have the perception and discernment to see what liberates creative possibility.”
Now the boys are teenagers, and we laugh about those early lectures. Recently one asked if my
nuanced argument was a subtle form of coercion. I said it was true that it was easier for me if he
had cooperated, and that my true aim was to give him a chance to see that his resistance could
be transformed into a positive intention.
Laying it out for children is far easier than dealing with similar dilemmas in myself. I am faced
with this collision of yes and no many times a day. Sometimes it has a sharp quality, like the
shock of the queue ball hitting its mark on a pool table. Other times it is a slow burn, a
simmering resentment that another person is behaving other than I want, something isn’t
happening as it should, or that I am unable to rise to an occasion and accomplish the work that
In these events I am confronted with the feeling that there is no escape from an insoluble
conflict and contradiction. Like being crucified, I see no way out and can easily collapse into
anger, hopelessness, or some variant of dissociative withdrawal.
In the midst of the struggle, I recognize my helplessness in the face of the dilemma and perhaps
catch a fleeting glimpse of the nothingness at the core of all the sturm und drang. Of a sudden, it
looks like that scene from Vanilla Sky in which Tom Cruise walks through an empty and silent
Struck by an unexpected silence I become aware that an invisible source of help is present, an
energy which is at the same time an intelligence. Movement becomes possible in the situation
that was, only moments before, utterly intractable. The help is silent, like an angelic hand
reaching down from the Cloud of Unknowing.
When I see that I can do nothing and that I am reliant on a source of help beyond my own
resources I see that real choice is no choice at all. What is needed is to choose what leads to
refinement, to something new. Allowed to be completely honest, I see that the real choice, the
only choice is always clear.
The worlds of Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield in The Bhagavad Gita echo through all time.
“Great hero! Cut the knot of ignorance in your heart with the sword of self-knowledge, and do